Naomi Bartholomew, head of St Catherine’s Prep, reveals the benefits of learning outside of the classroom
We have a policy here in the Prep School that it’s not the wrong weather, only ever the wrong clothes. A school life in the idyllic Surrey Hills, where there is plenty of fresh air and space, is the perfect environment for children to play and grow. We encourage the girls to wrap up, get their wellies on and be outside playing and learning whenever possible. Freedom to be truly creative in play is important to us – playtimes are fun and not bound by a rota or time restrictions.
I have spent idyllic hours in the woods watching the girls exchange leaves for conkers at one of their ‘nature shops’, or discovering freely within the outdoor space. We are also able to take learning outside in our Cottage Garden, where girls learn about growing vegetables and then using the ingredients in cookery, while the Gardening Club sees those who are keen and green-fingered planting, weeding and looking after our raised beds and pots around the school.
The girls thrive at our outdoor classroom, Little Wood Lodge, an eco-cabin which hosts science lessons, drop-in board game sessions at break time and the girls’ very own pop-up classrooms. The girls choose to teach on a topic in which they excel to fellow pupils and staff. We’ve had pop-up classroom sessions on Scottish dancing, space, skateboarding and sudoko to name a few.
Due to the school’s location, it means we have the best of both worlds. We can take pupils into London or to cultural activities with ease, while ensuring that their everyday schooling is in comfort. There is a real sense of community within the village of Bramley, too, and girls benefit from close links with the other two schools in the village, while maintaining strong links with the village church. As a school, we enjoy taking part in local events such as the Bramley Fete, and attend important church services.
Is this all too idyllic? I think not. We are determined that the children deserve a school life that is happy and fulsome. We are also committed to the girls looking beyond Bramley to local, national and global concerns, and our curriculum and charitable works ensure this is the case, with links to our partner schools, St Catherine’s Melbourne, Nairobi, Virginia and with One Star Public School in Bagli, India. I cannot think of a better start for the children than this.